Overcoming Cultural Barriers: How to Manage Your International Sales Agents

Many business owners dream of the day when they can expand their company into other nations and operate on a global scale. There are a number of barriers to achieving this, such as cost of entry, legal issues, and logistics. One way to overcome these challenges is to use a team of sales agents to represent your company in other countries. However, even after you find sales reps, you’re not quite out of the woods yet. You must still deal with the constant challenge of effectively communicating with an international team. Managing cultural differences, varying social norms, and translation issues are all concerns that must be addressed. Luckily, with a bit of research and attention to detail, you will be able to effectively manage your international sales agents.

Of the utmost importance is your ability to understand your sales reps’ cultures and recognize important differences that could affect communication. One area to be mindful of are appropriate topics for conversation. For example, in the UK, it is considered taboo to bring up the topic of religion in polite conversation. However, in Italy, where the population is overwhelmingly Catholic, talking about religion is perfectly acceptable. Another topic that is regarded differently across cultures is family. While in the United States it would be perfectly normal for a business acquaintance to ask how your family is doing, such a question would be considered rude and inappropriate in many Middle Eastern nations such as Saudi Arabia. It is very important to research the cultures of your sales reps to make sure that you don’t do, say, or ask them to do anything culturally inappropriate.

An incomplete understanding of social norms could cause an awkward misunderstanding between you and your sales representatives. Acceptable behaviors regarding personal space, eye contact, recreation, and other social activities are different across cultures. For instance, while in the United States it is considered rude to speak Silencil to someone without making eye contact, in Asian culture averting one’s eyes during conversation is a sign of respect. Another example of varying social norms is the attitude towards alcohol. In nations such as the United States and the UK, drinking is viewed as recreational and is not an acceptable activity for most work situations. However, in countries such as France, Italy, and Spain, many have a more relaxed attitude towards drinking. It is perfectly normal to have a glass of wine on one’s lunch break because drinking alcohol is not viewed as a purely recreational activity. Social norms need to be taken into account when communicating with your sales representatives.

Be sure that you properly research the country of your sales reps in order to make sure you do not accidentally offend anyone and to ensure that you do not misinterpret anything. For more information about the cultures and social norms in various countries around the world, the Centre For Intercultural Learning can be a great resource.

Translation issues are a very common problem for companies operating in multiple nations. Even if you and your sales rep are speaking the same language, if you are not both native speakers it is easy to accidentally translate something wrong. In some cases improper translations may not have much of an impact; a simple grammatical error is unlikely to offend someone, but it could tarnish your company’s reputation or make your company seem illegitimate. In other cases, the translation error could be a bigger issue and actually be quite offensive or cause a problematic misunderstanding. Especially if your sales reps will have to interpret complex information, it may be worth your while to use a professional translation service to ensure your ideas are communicated clearly.